The Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, James Anaya, visited Chile from 14 to 16 April 2014 to give a lecture on the duty of the State to consult with indigenous peoples during a conference organized by the Universidad Diego Portales. He also made a keynote speech during a meeting of various business enterprises by Global Compact Chile on the "Relationship of Companies and Indigenous Peoples in the Field of Human Rights." While he was in Chile, the Special Rapporteur also met with several representatives of the State, as well as delegations of representatives of indigenous peoples, NGOs and academics. During the meeting, views on the key challenges for the protection of rights of indigenous peoples in Chile were exchanged.
Indigenous Peoples in Chile
There are 10 different Indigenous groups in Chile. The largest one is the Mapuche, followed by the Aymara, the Diaguita, the Lickanantay, and the Quechua peoples. Chile is the only country in Latin America, that does not recognise the Indigenous Peoples in its constitution. For that, Indigenous groups face challenges, especially in terms of territorial rights.
However, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted by the Government of Chile on 13 September 2007 and ILO convention 169 was ratified in 2008. Despite Chile’s constitution not recognizing the Indigenous Peoples, the Ministry of Social Development has convened an Indigenous constitutional drafting process to gain the perspective of the Indigenous Peoples on the content of a new constitution.
Law No. 19,253 of 1993 on Indigenous promotion, protection, and development remains in effect, even though it does not meet international law standards concerning the rights of Indigenous Peoples to land, territory, natural resources, participation, and political autonomy.
Indigenous Peoples in Chile
There are 10 different Indigenous groups in Chile. Despite being in constant increase since the 1990s, the Indigenous population of Chile has not varied greatly since the 2017 census, resulting in 2,185,792 people self-identifying as Indigenous, or the equivalent of 12.8% of the country’s total population of 17,076,076. The Mapuche are the most numerous (almost 1,800,000 individuals), followed by the Aymara (156,000) and the Diaguita (88,000).
There has been a notable and sustained increase in the proportion of Indigenous population living in urban areas, with 87.8% of Indigenous members now living in cities compared to 12.2% living in the countryside.
Main challenges for Chile’s Indigenous Peoples
According to the Ministry of Social Development, 30.8% of the Indigenous population live in poverty, while for the non-indigenous population that figure is 19.9%. The region of Araucanía, which concentrates the largest Indigenous population, continues to be the country’s poorest region.
A continuous struggle for the Mapuche peoples is their rights to the lands and territories, which legally and/or ancestrally belong to them. In the Region of the Araucanía and Los Ríos, the rights of the Mapuche people have been gravely threatened by the expansion of extractive, production, and infrastructure projects. The great majority of these initiatives belong to private corporations.
Although a new legislative bill raises questions on the part of Indigenous Peoples and has created the Biodiversity and Protected Areas Service (SBAP) and the National Protected Areas System (SNAP), it fails to recognize the contribution of Indigenous Peoples to biodiversity, does not protect indigenous rights against public and private conservation initiatives, nor recognizes or protect indigenous and community conservation initiatives.
Another challenge is the criminalization of Mapuche social protest by the state. During 2017, the State broadly used the Antiterrorist Act to persecute members of the Mapuche people. During the course of the year, that law was invoked against 23 Mapuche persons charged with terrorist homicidal arson, terrorist arson, and/or terrorist conspiracy.
Legislative progress for Chile’s Indigenous Peoples
In August 2017, the Ministry of Social Development started to a process of consultation of Indigenous Peoples' perspectives in regard to the content of Indigenous matters for a new constitution. This process, namely the "Indigenous Constitutional Assembly Process" gathered proposals as involving the Indigenous Peoples' legal recognition as nations, the status of Chile as plurinational State, the right to the self-determination and autonomy, the right to the territory and natural resources, the right to special indigenous representation, and linguistic and social rights. However, the process has failed to take the content that the indigenous peoples had identified as priorities into account.
Following the social protests that broke out in the country from October 2019 onward demanding in-depth institutional change, and with approval given for the drafting of a new constitution in a referendum held in October 2020, there is now a new opportunity opening up for the recognition of Indigenous Peoples and their collective rights within the new Political Constitution.
"We are a peaceful people. We don't like war. We don't want police and military on our land," said Erity Teave, an indigenous activist from the Chilean-administered Easter Island in the Pacific Ocean. Teave, an indigenous activist who is currently visiting the United States, told IPS that her people were looking for urgent international action to protect them from what she described as "terrorism" by the authorities in Santiago.
While many are sceptical that the Chilean government will deliver on its promise of a shift in indigenous policy, the deadline is looming for the administration of Sebastián Piñera to live up to Inter-American Commission on Human Rights recommendations with respect to imprisoned members of the Mapuche community. "The challenge for this year is preventing a situation where it is the courts that intervene, as a last resort, to try to solve the demands of both the indigenous communities and the owners of disputed lands" claimed by native groups, Jorge Contesse, director of the Human Rights Centre at the private Diego Portales University, told IPS. "The political authorities have to take a hand in the matter," the lawyer said.
A land dispute on Easter Island turned violent Friday (3 Dec) when riot police evicting islanders from their ancestral home were surrounded by rock-throwing protesters. About two dozen people were injured in a seven-hours-long confrontation. The clash began at 5 a.m. when officers moved in to evict 10 people from the home they had been occupying since ousting a government official from the property in September, Rapa Nui lawyer Maka Atan told The Associated Press.